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Video by Hervé AMORIC


Latest update : 2011-01-24

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen's ruling coalition suffered another blow on Sunday as its junior partner the Green Party pulled out in a move likely to push a planned March 11 vote forward. Cowen quit as leader of his Fianna Fail party on Saturday.

AFP - Ireland's government was in tatters Monday after the junior coalition partners pulled out, as talks were set to start on fast-tracking a key finance bill in a move that would bring forward elections.

The Green Party announced Sunday they could no longer continue in coalition with the larger Fianna Fail party, wiping out the government's slim majority and meaning a general election called for March 11 will likely be held earlier.

It came after Prime Minister Brian Cowen bowed to pressure and resigned as Fianna Fail leader Saturday following a week of political chaos that started with a leadership challenge from his own foreign minister.

The Greens' departure deepens the political crisis sparked by Dublin's acceptance of a bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund in November following the country's financial meltdown.

The Irish bailout was the second for a eurozone country after Greece amid the single currency's mounting debt crisis.

Announcing the party's decision to withdraw from the coalition, Green leader John Gormley told a press conference in Dublin that "our patience has reached an end."

"Because of these continuing doubts, the lack of communication and the breakdown in trust, we have decided that we can no longer continue in government," he said.

Despite the near-collapse of his government and his resignation from the top job in Fianna Fail, Cowen has insisted he will remain prime minister until the election.

After the Greens walked away, the prime minister said the important thing was now to focus on "an orderly completion" of the finance bill.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan was due to meet with opposition parties later Monday to try to agree on a timetable for passing the bill, which is crucial to securing loans worth 67 billion euros (90 billion dollars) from the EU and IMF.

The bill will bring into effect measures from the government's harsh austerity budget, which includes a string of tax hikes and spending cuts aimed at saving billions of euros.

Despite now being in opposition, the Greens vowed to support the controversial bill in its passage through the Dail, or lower house of parliament.

"We will remain true to our promise to support the finance bill from the opposition benches," said Gormley, but urged Fianna Fail to "make every effort to fast-track this legislation".

The opposition Labour party has pledged to table a motion of no confidence in the government unless the bill is pushed through this week, allowing parliament to be dissolved Friday and new dates set for a general election.

Lenihan said he hoped "a realistic schedule for the completion of the finance bill" could be agreed on, while Cowen stressed that it would not be possible to pass the legislation in a week.

Cowen had been under pressure for months over his handling of the crisis that crippled the Irish economy.

He survived a leadership challenge by then foreign minister Micheal Martin last week, but an attempt to use Martin's subsequent resignation and five other apparently coordinated cabinet resignations to force a reshuffle backfired.

The Green party vetoed any new reappointments and pressured Cowen into announcing the election date of March 11. Two days later he quit as leader of his party, which he has led since becoming premier in May 2008.

Martin is now the frontrunner to take over Fianna Fail, although he will be up against Lenihan, Defence Minister Eamon O Cuiv and Trade Minister Mary Hanafin.

Nominations close at 1:00 pm (1300 GMT) Monday, ahead of a vote planned for Wednesday at 2:00 pm (1400 GMT) in Dublin.

Fianna Fail's popularity has plummeted since Dublin agreed to the bailout and the party is expected to be punished by voters angry at the economic crisis and the austerity measures that followed.

Ireland's economy was so vibrant before the crisis that it was dubbed "The Celtic Tiger" but a banking crisis and property market meltdown plunged it into a deep recession.

Date created : 2011-01-23


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